Chatting · Writing Advice

What I’ve Learned Writing Short Stories

Since launching my website, getting involved with the writeblr community, and starting my newsletter, I’ve tried my hand at quite a few short stories. They’re a completely different beast from novels, much less a series, and utilize a completely distinct skill set of storytelling tools. Today I’m sharing some of the tricks I’ve learned in my experience!

You can still outline – It just looks like a list of bullet points or one paragraph instead of a spreadsheet and a wall full of sticky notes. I find it useful to still have a plan going into the story, so even the bare bones of a character objective and obstacle can help structure the plot and keep it from running off an extra 3000 words, or running into the ground after two paragraphs.

Choose one thing to improve or experiment – In each of my stories, I’ve taken the opportunity to mess around with a particular aspect of the story, be it a strange POV, changing the tense, turning it to script form, playing with the alightment, color, font, and format of the text, or other such shenanigans. The nice thing about a short story is that you only have to commit to the bit for a few thousand words, rather than an entire book, and it takes a lot less time to revise. It’s like doing figure studies in art, or scales in music.

You often start In Medias Res – In short stories, there is rarely page-time for backstory or build-up. It’s crucial to jump straight into the action, and keep the narrative running at a steady pace. It’s a different story structure than you often find in full-length books, and so it’s interesting to explore a unique process of plot beats that might not line up with what you’re used to writing.

Explore different elements of your world – If you’re stuck with the plot of your main WIP, short stories are like writing fanfiction for your own book. Explore “deleted scenes” that you might not expect to make it into the final cut of the draft. Switch POV for a scene to a side character who doesn’t often get the spotlight. Explore an alternate universe to see if changing the setting leads to more interesting conflict. This is what I’ve been doing with the Runaways universe, to share lore about Seelie the girls don’t get to see.

Finishing smaller projects is a confidence booster – When you slog away at a giant WIP for years it can be easy to get discouraged and feel like you’ll never finish. If you’re anything like me, checking things off a list is supremely satisfying, and tinkering away can get exhausting when you look ahead and see no end in sight. Bashing through small works is a great way to revive motivation when you can see the checkmark within a week or two of setting out. Accumulating a nice backlog of works also means you have them to pull out and share at a moment’s notice, which is also great for getting immediate feedback, since people are more likely to read and finish a short story.

Treat it like a low-budget theater production – We don’t have time for set dressing! That costs words! You’re reusing the blue curtains whether you like it or not! What do you mean three side characters? Can’t we get away with Joe in a funny hat? Graphic descriptions of props and macguffins? That’s a nerf gun covered in masking tape and paint. It doesn’t need backstory. LIGHTS CAMERA ACTION!


Thank you for reading! Next week I’ll be sharing a review of Newsletter Ninja, so be sure to check back for that, or to leave a writing prompt in the comments. If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip on my Kofi or donating using the secure box below. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!

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Chatting · Writing Advice

Creative Strategy

Trying to maintain a balance between real-life obligations and your creative pursuits is less like walking a beam and more like one of those platform games where you just have to time the jumps right and hope you don’t fall in the lava. Our days are a battlefield of shifting schedules and absent attention spans, so today, in the honor of my website-launch anniversary earlier this month, I’m sharing some of the wisdom I’ve learned over the last two years. If you’re looking to be more purposeful with your writing work, I hope this can share some helpful advice!

What are your long-term goals?

If you want to write as a hobby and post your work for free online, your first and only priority should be to write for yourself and have fun. If you want to publish, you’ll need to know whether you want to self-publish, query agents to go on submission to traditional publishers, or run a hybrid model, and do research on what it takes to make it into each side of the industry. What are your goals for publishing? Sales, royalties, marketing commitments, and professional skill sets are all important factors in deciding which type of publishing you want to pursue, and one route or the other might be better depending on the book and your mindset. If you want to write under a pen name, do you plan on having multiple pen names and running multiple platforms? What genres do you write and what’s your target audience? Do you want to make this your full-time career or pursue something else as a day-job and keep this as a passion project? The answers to these questions will determine how you approach your personal writing strategy – which shouldn’t be the same for everyone!

My example: I knew in high school, when I started thinking about career paths and college majors, that I wanted to have a financially stable life where I could work a 9-5 or eventually part-time role and still have mental energy to work on my hobbies when I came home. I’ve talked before about how I balance my storytelling and STEM studies, but this means I treat my writing like a part-time gig. My goal is to self-publish because I like the idea of maintaining creative control and a larger percentage of royalties from my sales. I write under the name Etta Grace to separate my fiction from my real-life career and maintain my privacy on both this platform and from my employers. At one point, I thought about launching a second pen name for my middle-grade fiction, but decided running two platforms and building a new one from the ground-up would be too much work. Therefore, my platform needs to have some crossover appeal to reach my wide audience audiences.

It’s not too late or too early to think about this and making a new plan. If your life situation changes, if might be a good time to reevaluate, if you’re going through a big career change, starting or finishing school, or going through a significant family event. Write these down before you continue reading.

Look ahead at the year

It’s impossible to plan for everything, but through a global pandemic and an impending economic recession, we still have to go to class, work, and see our families. It’s easier to account for ebbs and flows in productivity when you know what obstacles will keep you from the laptop and you can compensate for the lost time in the quieter weeks. Sometimes it’s possible to line up steps in the writing process with these seasons, such as releasing a suspense story around spooky season. Keeping tabs on upcoming events helps keep you from getting blindsided by the inexorable progress of time.

My Example: My semester starts in August, so I planned to finish editing Draft Three of Runaways around that time so that I could hand off the manuscript to beta readers while I tackle senior year. When I move out of my apartment, I’ll need to take down the sticky outline that’s still hanging on my wall, so the Laoche spreadsheet/document outline needs to be done by the time you’re reading this. I want to cosplay Vin Mistborn for Halloween so when burnout hit this summer; I switched to working on the first piece of the costume so it would be ready in advance and picked a shirt design I can use for multiple costumes (check out last week’s post if you missed it for a walkthrough of that thought process).

If you know there’s a transition coming up, do yourself the favor to pre-emptively work around it. With a plan in mind, that’s one less stress to be cluttering your mind during those turbulent periods of life. Unlike a writing career, getting a degree has a clear path to follow, so this lets me make progress towards my personal goals without feeling like I’m falling behind on my books.

Look ahead at your fiction

Planning a series is an enormous commitment. Publishing leaves you open to further exploration with those worlds, characters, and missing scenes if you have avid readers who will want to know more. Marketing requires having freebies on hand to encourage people to read your work, such as mailing list cookies and art giveaways. My best advice for not going insane is to multitask – if you can reuse short-stories for content, save yourself the pressure of producing extra words under time pressure. Use every project as an excuse to procrastinate on other projects, so you can always stay working on something that interests you at the moment. Whether you’re a plotter of panster, before going into any publishing, have an end in mind by outlining or fast-drafting.

My example: I’m terrified of publishing Storge – the prequel for the Laoche Chronicles – then starting on the series itself and realizing I didn’t set things up properly and I can no longer go back and retcon my old work because it’s already released. I’m outlining the entire series at once hoping there will be less risk to releasing the books one at a time as I write them without digging myself into a plot hole. I want to work a few books ahead of schedule, so that #1 is done and #2 started by the time Storge gets published. This way, there’s not a huge wait between them, and I know I’m up-to-date on my lore and foreshadowing. I also plan to have novellas between the books to fill the time and provide missing-scenes. Unfortunately, making a debut with something this massive is intimidating, and so I plan to self-publish Runaways first, as it’s a much simpler and self-contained story. I needed cookies for my mailing list, so instead of writing one-off short stories, I’ve been using this method to explore the fae world more, and want to collect those works waiting in reserve for an anthology.

Even if you have nothing published yet, it never hurts to start working on your author’s platform early, so that by the time you have all your ducks in a row, you also have readers at the ready. Think about how you want your book-backlog to look in 5, 10, 20 years, and set up a list of priorities so that you can switch out WIPs as needed.

Making Connections

Writing should not be a solitary endeavor, and I don’t know what I would do without my friends to enable this insanity. For more practical purposes, your friends are the people who are going to tell others about your writing, especially if they’re also creatives. You become mutual promotion machines and meet new people through the networks you create simply by putting yourself out there. This falls under the umbrella of “building a platform” but really that means building a community.

My example: In 2019 I joined Tumblr, whipped up a blog header and WIP intro, and started posting horrible Inktober illustrations of the Storge cast. Two incredible authors – @abalonetea and @siarven found my work by checking out my blog after I left comments on their work, and we hit it off. Their introduction to the writeblr space let me meet dozens of other talented people and we still chat ideas to this day. You might recognize their names from my interviews here: where we talk about character development and worldbuilding, respectively.

Be friendly, leave comments, find your social media platform of choice, and join groups. Try to get to know the extroverts because they’ll introduce you to the rest of their friend group by proxy. I always prioritize the relationships in my life first because I’m not super social at work, but I have a close knit friend group in real life as well and those people are really important to me and supportive of my creative endeavors.

Budjeting

Money is deeply annoying, and adulting is hard, but fortunately it is also extremely important and so we should still talk about it. If you self-publish, you will need to pay for everything out of pocket, but you will keep more of your royalties and start earning money immediately after the book sells. If you traditionally publish, you will get an advance payment and should not pay for anything throughout the process, but you will not start making royalties until after the sales have paid back the advance, and then you will earn a smaller percentage of your royalties. This is a major factor for many writers in choosing career options. If you know you will be self-publishing, it’s best to start saving up now. It’s also worth considering if you want to monetize your author’s platform, and if so, how? Patreon, Ko-Fi, donations, ads, commissions, and ghostwriting are all additional options to help your writing fund itself.

My Example: In May, I will graduate and start my new adult career in some engineering role. I want to have an editor, illustrator, and cover artist picked out for Runaways by June, so when I have Salaried Money and no more student loans to pay off, I can hit the ground running with production for publication. This blog doesn’t cost me a lot of money to maintain, but it is an enormous time investment, and it would be worth it to set up some kind of monetization, however small, sooner rather than later. I run unobtrusive ads at the bottom of my posts. Though I don’t have the traffic yet to see any payout, I hope it’ll accumulate, eventually. I set up a way to tip me directly if people feel like being a ~patron of the arts~ but I will never lock things behind a paywall or subscription because I don’t believe in running a creative hobby like that.

This is an extremely personal decision, so choose what works the best for your personal situation. A lot of creatives break out in hives at the idea of setting up a budget and marketing their work, but it’s worth thinking about if you want to have peace of mind about making ends meet.

Bide your Time

As far as I’ve read and experienced, it takes roughly two years to establish any kind of online “presence” that gives you consistent feedback. Growth follows generally follows an upward curve, and at a certain point, if you’re lucky, that turns exponential. Consistency helps to please the fickle attention span of the internet, but make sure it’s at a pace that works for you. Though a lot of success in creative industries comes down to luck, don’t let that discourage you from putting yourself out there. Luck is just where preparedness meets opportunity, and you’ll have more opportunities the longer you’re in the game and know where to look, and if you have a strategy in place, you’ll be prepared to jump on opportunities when they come up. Don’t follow the trends, be yourself, and know that eventually algortighms and reblogs and word of mouth can work in your favor to bring people to you.

My example: On a daily and weekly basis, my views for this site are all over the place, but if you look at my history, you’ll see how my audience has grown. These screenshots are from 8/7/2022, as I’m queuing this in advance, so they’re slightly outdated, but still an accurate representation of the point I’m trying to make.

These are the statistics for my top 5 posts in the past year. I wrote the post on Addie La Rue without realizing its popularity, because I just thought it was a good story and worth analyzing. This accidental trend-hopping has contributed far more to those views than any of my original work, and it brought a few readers to the site who ended up sticking around.

Follow your interests, and you’ll be surprised where it leads you. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get the results you want right away. Remember, strategy is playing the long game, and it’s not a race.

Habits aren’t for everyone

The advice to write every day is EVERYWHERE in the writing community – from NaNoWriMo to that one post about Terry Pratchett’s 200 words before breakfast. It’s easy to fall into this mental trap that if you aren’t building consistent habits, you’re horrible and a failure and you’re Never Going to Make It. My dear friends, that is but mere bullshit. I know I said earlier that consistency helps build a following to appease the internet attention spans, but that’s the miracle of the queue button.

My example: I sprint through writing in hyper-focus mode and switch projects rapidly to keep things interesting. It’s possible to *post* every week without *writing* every week. The fiction writing matches roughly the same pace. This graph is from last year’s sprint:

Take it at your own pace – even if that pace is oscillating between manic progress and forgetting about it for weeks on end – then schedule things in advance if you need.

Build Backup Plans

Burnout aint pretty and no strategy is complete without prepping contingencies for crises. Leave enough room for inspiration to take the wheel, and to move to more relaxing projects when you’re sick of the big ones. You can always make them work into the big scheme later, and passion is never wasted. I’m definitely not the fastest writer, but I think being well rounded and protecting your mental health is more important than word count.

Thank you for reading and let me know if this has helped you at all! Next week I’ll be sharing a short-story I wrote for the Writeblr Summerfest event hosted by @abalonetea, so make sure to stop back for that. If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip on my Kofi or donating using the secure box below. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!

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Chatting · Writing Advice

How to Finish What You Start

This video by Thomas Frank inspired this blog post. I highly recommend checking it out if you have the time! It’s generalized to any creative process, but I want to offer resources and exercises for authors to do to help us finish our WIPs! Many of these are tried-and-true methods for beating writer’s block, so let me know if you’ve tried them before, and how they work for you!

The Problem: Paralysis of Choice

Continue reading “How to Finish What You Start”
Chatting · Writing Advice

6 Ways DnD Has Made Me A Better Writer

This is a random topic compared to my usual posts, but it’s one that’s been knocking around in my brain for a while. I’m currently in five campaigns (that meet with varying degrees of regularity), I’ve finished several one-shots and two long-running games, and have two more on deck for the summer, so I’ve had plenty of experience coming up with whacky characters and navigating the dilemmas that the DMs throw at as. I’ve only DMed a few times myself, but I am always in storytelling mode, so this was really just the natural result of exposure to the clicky-clacky-math-rocks. This is less focused on mechanics, and more geared toward player dynamics and character creation, but I hope you find it useful!

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Chatting · Writing Advice

How To Write A Fighter

If you’re here looking for a guide on how to write a fight scene, I’m afraid you’re in the wrong place. There are approximately 59,900 results on google about descriptive verbs and pacing, which are useful, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about today. Today we’re talking about characterization.

Everyone loves a fighter. They’re compelling by nature – someone who’s willing to put their life and safety on the line for something they believe in or a person they care about is someone the audience will root for. But how does this archetype act when they’re not in combat? How might a trained character approach a battle differently from your average Joe? I think the mindset of a fighter is interesting to explore in slice of life scenes, and this article will break down some ways to think about your OCs in a different context.

What are my credentials to talk about this? I did Shotokan Karate for 9 years, fencing for 3 semesters (started with Epee and switched to Sabre recently, if you’re curious), and just started taking Tae Kwon Do on my college campus. I am not a sharpshooter, but I have some experience with both firearms and bows as well. This article won’t get into details of different weapons or fighting styles, but the advice will apply to a broad range of contexts and genres. So, shall we begin?

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Chatting · Reading Recs · Writing Advice

5 ways to Encourage Kids to Read

When he was ten, my little brother was not a “fan” of anything. He enjoyed certain tv shows, but never got invested in the story and rarely read voluntarily, much to our mother’s chagrin. Mostly, he hung out with his jock of an older brother who poked fun at the fandom and writerly shenanigans of my marvel-obsessed sister and I, the resident Nerd and Author who “Care Too Much” about fictional worlds. Today, my twelve-year-old brother finished a 12-page-long original story, and is working his way through Lord of the Rings.

Around the same time, at the start of 2020, I was in one of the worst reading slumps of my LIFE. High school literature classes and a busy college/work schedule took my reading habit from several books a week to 1 or 2 a year. Thanks to a few beloved friends’ encouragement, I started the Stormlight Archive, and bounced back to reading over 30 books by this past year.

I’m not a teacher, or a parent, but I have learned a few things from watching his development these past two years, and watching the tricks that my friends pulled on me. For anyone else who spends a lot of time with impressionable kids and wants to play the (incredibly fun) role of neighborhood eccentric that sends children on adventures, here are 5 ways to encourage them to read.

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Chatting · Writing Advice

How To Write Siblings

(This is a republished version of a guide I wrote on Tumblr a while ago that many people seemed to write. I’m posting it here for the benefit of the wider blogging community and for ease of searching because tumblr’s tagging system is notoriously trash.)

There are a few key aspects of the family dynamic you’ll want to keep in mind that will influence how the different relationships form! Siblings can have such a complex relationship that becomes fascinating to see in larger families: they can be best friends and worst enemies, and it’s a criminally underrated dynamic in fiction. Speaking as someone with 4 younger siblings, I’m here today to show you how to build accurate and compelling relationships for your characters.

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Chatting · Writing Advice

Free Templates: Outline and Edit Sheet

Hello my friends, and Happy Thanksgiving if you celebrate! I had meant to share with you today an excerpt from Store, which explains the yellow rose symbol you can see around my blog and social media. This scene comes from chapter 12, and I had left off editing several months ago on chapter 10. Since I took a hiatus to work on Runaways, I needed to reread much of what I already completed in order to figure out what to do next. In the process, I started experimenting with a new method to stay organized. Storge is a hugely complicated read: painfully over-ambitious story, with 3 (and a half) subplots (if you count the Avian drama), and eight POVs, so I needed a new way to keep all the details straight and my old word doc list method didn’t cut it. I’m quite pleased with how my new spreadsheet works, but got so carried away in my analysis, and midterms, and hosting our family’s feast, that I never finished the scene.

But I’ve been talking about this incessantly on tumblr, so I’m not wholly without content for you today. I’ve created a blank version of my sheet, which is available here for you to copy and use for your own stories! I also created a blank version of the outline I use for brainstorming my stories. Both of these documents are shared by clicking on the links, and you will have editing privileges. Kindly don’t write in this document, make a copy, then leave the original blank for others to use! I explained how I use my brainstorming documents in this post and broke down the editing process from first read-through to final draft in this post. With the links out of the way, the rest of this entry will is an updated version of Step 3 in the editing process: the Developmental Edits.

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Chatting · Writing Advice

How To Write Impactful Symbols

Hello my friends, today we’re covering every English teacher’s favorite subject! (cue collective eye roll). Take it from someone who started an engineering major specifically to avoid taking Lit classes: Symbols can actually be a fascinating and extremely effective technique to elicit emotional reactions from your characters and your audience. It’s one of my favorite, but poorly understood, rhetorical tools in a storyteller’s arsenal, so today I wanted to break down the topic and discuss how to write symbols that work.

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Chatting · Reading Recs · Writing Advice

6 Types of Framing Structures

Framing Structures are a literary device used to add context to a story for the benefit of the audience’s understanding or deepening the experience. They’re everywhere in fiction, but how can you choose which one works best for your story? In my experience, they fit into one of the following six categories, which I’ve defined for you today! Each has different purposes, strengths, and weaknesses, and none is better than the others, so this article takes an analytical look at what makes them work well, and includes examples to illustrate. So let’s get into the trope talk, shall we?

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